Building An Innovation Ecosystem

When it comes to innovation, which is key to success and growth of a company or industry, we usually focus on individuals. We have a certain fascination with innovative leaders like Steve Jobs, and with single inventors that have made breakthrough discoveries that changed the world for decades ahead.

But it is more essential to focus on structures that foster a culture of innovation, says Art Markman, psychology and marketing professor at the University of Texas, Austin, in a blog post to the Harvard Business Review. If your business relies predominantly on individual innovation, you may consider creating your own innovation reef - a structure that nurtures innovation across your company the way coral reefs protect, feed and nurture a growth environment for fish, plants and animals in the ocean, Markman says.

There are three key elements to creating an innovation reef - a system where experts in problem-solving develop a network of individuals with the ability to bring new ideas to the market.

First, you need to have the right people. The innovation network has to comprise upper-level managers that can finance projects, as well as leaders experienced in past successful innovations, people with technical skills and insight and external advisers.

Next, you have to cultivate the network. This means creating ways for this larger group of experts to meet, talk, exchange new ideas and share their experience. Lead innovators should meet regularly with a range of teams within your organization that are working on new projects, to connect groups that are facing similar problems.

The third essential element involves the development of a company-wide education program on how to develop good ideas and how to turn them into actionable plans to push them to the market.

The innovation reef creates a structure to promote innovation without governing the innovation outcomes. It is important to have this loosely-built structure so that groups working on innovative projects will directly connect with each other to solve problems without being governed from the top. This innovation network and culture will allow for innovative ideas to be generated but also to blossom.